Is there a consensus about good wine?

parker“Wine guru Parker says he’s happy with a $20 bottle,” blared a Reuters headline from a Tokyo stop on Robert Parker’s Asian trip. Yay! Before heading to a $3,000-a-head tasting dinner, he suggested to locals that it was OK to drink Beaujolais Nouveau, zinfandel starting at $18, and malbec from Argentina.

But buried in the story, Parker said, “You hear the argument you can’t go through a museum and say, ‘The Monet gets a 90 and the Cezanne gets 88.’ But there is a general consensus to what is good wine. I’m not trying to replace your taste, or the person buying the wine…”

Really? Unlike Parker, I find few “good” examples of Beaujolais nouveau (cru Beaujolais is an entirely more rewarding category, however). And some tasting panels can’t agree on what constitutes “good” either: Consider the recent Times panel on Soave where one taster said ”I was shocked at how many of the wines I didn’t like” to which Eric Asimov replied, “Needless to say, I disagreed.” Consensus? And remember the controversial 2003 Chateau Pavie? Finally, I doubt Parker and Alice Feiring would have many overlapping examples of “good” wines. When have you not agreed with someone else about a wine’s being “good”?

Speaking of lack of consensus, it’s also sometimes hard to determine what is “typical” as a portion of Jean-Paul Brun’s Beaujolais has been denied the appellation, ostensibly for being atypical. Or, in his case, good.

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13 Responses to “Is there a consensus about good wine?”

  1. I agree with you. The burden of wine culture is pseudo-scientific approach cherished by those equipped with technocratic mindsets that seem to think (unconsciously no doubt) that world would be a better place if every object, idea and emotion could be labeled and measured in the same way a bunch of engineers calculate durability of a bridge constructed in a wrong place.

    The blame is on Plato, Luther, Kant and many others, but I think it’s about time we bring wine culture to the 21st Century by releasing ourselves from the oppressive tyranny of reason!

  2. I have found myself in situations where competent tasters can not agree whether a wine is corked or not. I would never think that folks would always agree about whether or not a wine was good.

  3. Great comments so far. I don’t even always agree with myself what is good wine. Subjectivity is, by definition, subject to inconsistency and swayed by mood and other factors. Not every wine can be sublime but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. So it comes down to where on the scale of goodness it falls. Rating wine of similar craftsmanship on the scale of goodness seems largely pointless except as a means of displaying ones ability to discern. The ability to discern between one thing and another is very valuable, however, the focus on quantifying qualitative factors seems to me to be mostly an exercise in futility. I don’t pay attention to critics much, and I don’t try to rate wines myself (but, I know what I like)–I prefer to explore a wine as I would explore a garden or a painting, looking for the nuance, or simply letting the impression of the moment wash over me. If a wine can’t give me that opportunity, then it’s not good wine IMHO.

  4. I’ve got a story somewhat in the same vein. A wine shop owner I know said recently, “I don’t really care for French wine.”

    I could only blink. Aren’t there some things everybody agrees on?

  5. Wow, Bob versus Alice Feiring in a blind tasting together could be a pay per view event. Who can really stick to their guns, and be consistent.

  6. This is nothing new from him.
    He’s said the same thing for years, and even printed it on the cover page of each and every issue of his Wine Advocate:
    “There are specific standards of quality that full-time wine professionals recognize…”

    He’s wrong, of course.
    But what can you do?

  7. It is in my experience that there are times when I just want to “drink” wine, and then other times when I wish to “evaluate” wine. There are many good drinkable wines out there. They may not have the complexity (well,duh, they just don’t) of a really great, well crafted wine, but they “drink” without making your nose curl. I tend to save the great ones to enjoy with friends so we can talk about them, and of course, there are always contrasting opinions. The best thing about wine is that, if you like it, drink it! $20 or $200, you may like them for different reasons…but it’s good to like them both!

    Sips n’ Nibbles…

  8. I went to the trade tasting Robert Parker led in Beijing yesterday. He said at the outset he looks for wines that are “pure” and “respect the integrity of the grapes” from which they are made. “You take one sip, one smell, and it pulls you back like a magnet.”

    That seemed vague to me. On the other hand, it was evident that while people might differ on which of the eight wines we tasted were “best”, we could also agree – have a general consensus – that these wines were “good.”

    By the way, I went to the Beijing equivalent of that USD3000 dinner in Tokyo. Ours was on the Great Wall and I am still trying to get my mind around it for a blog post.

    Cheers, Boyce

  9. BB – funny, I’ve seen that too.

    Vigneron – yes, I’m sure HBO is booking it now.

    Boyce – looking forward to your report!

  10. On a contrarian note, I think I actually agree with Parker here although it depends on how you take his quote. I think the ratings of critics bear this out. While there are the occasional polarizing wines, most frequently wines are scored in the same scoring band. How often do you see wine ratings with a discrepancy of more than say 10 points? Not that often. If a series of critics give a wine a wine a 96, 93, 91 89 and 87, they all agreed that it was good no? Although the consequences on sales of those wines might be affected, it doesn’t appear to me that they would have disagreed on the fact that it was a “good” wine.

    Of course everyone has different stylistic preferences and occasions call for different things. But on the whole I would imagine that there would be more agreement on what is good than not.

  11. I’m surprised that anyone would think their is consensus in wine scoring. If the scores that our users give is any guide, there is certainly no consensus among the “less educated” palate.

    To Noah’s point, I wonder what the overall distribution of published scores is. How often is a score less than 80 published? I don’t think it is very often – which would imply that any wine score around 90 would be almost guaranteed consensus by the +/-10 gauge.

  12. Mr. Parker didn’t say “there is a general consensus among those critics who publish scores for a living as to what is good wine”.
    He said there was general consensus. There isn’t. Not among professionals, and not among consumers.

  13. it’s too true, My Step-Mother, who needless to say has an amazingly accurate palate, has honorable luck with wines at our favorite restaurant/bar, I’ed say that she sends back about 1 out of 3 glasses of wine. but i guess it’s just like they say: Taste, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder…. or would that be nasal cavity?


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